In the last two decades, clothes have become cheaper, trends go out of style in a blink of an eye and our wardrobes are overflowing with clothes we barely wear. Shopping has become a monthly if not weekly event for many of us.
While you keep spending less and less but going home with more, the planet continues to suffer from your excessive shopping, a habit that has come to be defined as fast fashion.
What Is Fast Fashion?
Exactly what is fast fashion? The easiest fast fashion definition is a business model that mass produces ‘in fashion’ garments using cheap materials and labor.
In this type of model, clothing labels sample ideas from fashion shows and celebrity culture and turn them into garments available online and in stores almost overnight. These garments are cheap but trendy.
Fast fashion is fueled by the growing consumer desire for speed and value within retail. Instead of having to wait for new seasonal collections (i.e. spring/summer), consumers can get trendy clothing all year round and at a cheaper cost.
Why Is Fast Fashion so Bad?
You’re probably wondering why is fast fashion bad yet as the consumer it seems to be a win for you. You get more for less, what could be wrong with that?
The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, after oil. To be able to mass-produce trendy clothes overnight, fashion companies have to reduce costs and speed up production time. This often means cutting corners in the name of profit. In the process, the environment, people, and animals are harmed.
Here are a few fast-fashion problems that will make you reconsider your shopping habits:
The fast fashion industry is responsible for most of the environmental damage which the fashion industry continues to create. Fast fashion companies use toxic chemicals, dangerous dyes, and synthetic fabrics that seep into water supplies in countries where the clothing is made. The same clothes also end up polluting your water supply at home as you do your laundry. This makes the fashion industry the second largest polluter of clean water globally after agriculture.
Because new trendy clothes are introduced into the market so rapidly, we end up disposing of more and more clothes creating a huge amount of textile waste. In Canada for instance, the average person throws out 81 pounds of textiles every year. North Americans throw away 9.5 million tons of clothing every year. The sad part about this is that most of these clothes could be reused.
Fast fashion clothing thrown out is full of lead, pesticides, and countless other chemicals. These clothes almost never break down and continue releasing these toxic chemicals in the air for years.
Related article: The Most Sustainable Fabrics and the Ones You Should Avoid
Human rights violations
There are approximately 40 million garment workers in the world today. For the majority, their rights or protections are constantly being violated. Garment workers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the world. Garment workers are often underpaid, underfed, and pushed to their limits because there are often few other options.
The process of making fast fashion greatly affects the humans who make them. Some garments and accessories have dangerous amounts of lead in them. Garment workers continually get exposed to lead increasing their risk of infertility, heart attacks, and more.
Additionally, a garment worker’s health is constantly put at risk through their long hours, lack of resources, exposure to harmful chemicals, and often physical abuse.
Impact on animals
Fast fashion is also impacting animals around the world. Marine animals end up digesting the toxic dyes and microfibers released in waterways affecting their life cycles and even killing some.
Animal welfare is also put at risk when animal products such as leather and fur are used to make garments. There is so much real fur being produced under terrible conditions in fur farms. This has made real fur cheaper to produce and buy than faux fur.
Impact on the consumer
Fast fashion is continually encouraging the “throw-away” culture due to the speed at which clothes become obsolete and the speed at which trends are produced. Fast fashion makes us believe we need to shop more and more to stay on top of trends. This trend keeps increasing our carbon footprint.
Related article: Fast Fashion Facts
List of Fast Fashion Brands and Companies
Not all fashion brands are bad so don’t be too quick to cancel your favorite clothing brand. So, how can you spot fast fashion brands? Here are four of the main fast fashion signs:
- They are quick to release clothes after a trend is seen on the catwalk or modeled by a celebrity or social media influencer.
- Their clothes are produced in big factories where workers are paid unfair wages.
- You always feel pressured to buy their clothing due to limited availability.
- The clothes made from cheap, poor quality materials.
Here are 10 fast fashion brands to avoid and why:
Uniqlo is a Japanese brand that offers casual clothing. They have stores in Japan and other international markets.
Uniqlo has been hit by a number of complaints regarding poor pay and human rights violations. One of their suppliers in China reported violations of several labor rights in 2015. In 2016, it was alleged that Uniqlo expected staff to work long overtime hours for low pay rates of pay, in dangerous conditions that had a culture of bullying and harassment.
Topshop is a multinational fashion brand that sells clothes, footwear, cosmetics, and accessories. This brand has 500 outlets in the world.
There have been complaints on numerous occasions of workers being treated unfairly.
3. Rip Curl
Rip Curl designs and makes surfing sportswear and has shops worldwide, including 61 in Australia & New Zealand, 29 in North America, and 55 in Europe.
This brand has its workshop in North Korea where they’ve been accused of modern slavery.
4. Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters offers clothing, footwear, beauty products, activewear & equipment, homeware, and music including vinyl and cassettes.
This brand doesn’t pay its staff a living wage and has even been caught asking staff to work for free on weekends.
Their clothes are also produced using a lot of synthetic fabrics.
GAP is an American worldwide retailer for clothing and accessories with headquarters in San Francisco. They have over 3500 stores worldwide, with around 2400 in the US alone.
GAP has had more than its fair share of labor controversies. They’ve hit the headlines in the past for not paying their staff for overtime and subjecting employees to unsafe working conditions.
6. Fashion Nova
Fashion Nova is based in downtown Los Angeles and has five retail locations in Southern California.
Their clothes are unsurprisingly cheap but also very poor quality.
Adidas was founded in Germany. The company designs and makes footwear, clothes, and accessories.
They’re the biggest manufacturer of sportswear in Europe and second only to Nike when it comes to international manufacturers.
Adidas produces a large number of fashion garments – most of them are not made using sustainable materials. They also use animal products such as wool and leather to create their products.
8. New Look
New Look is one of the original UK fast fashion brands. They are now a global chain with 895 stores around the world.
New Look still uses animal products like leather, down, and exotic animal fur to make their clothing items.
Missguided is a UK-based, multi-channel brand that sells clothes to appeal to women aged 16-35.
In 2017, Missguided was found to have illegally used fur from cats, raccoon dogs, and rabbits in the production of shoes.
Mango offers women’s, men’s, and children clothing collections. Their biggest market is in Spain.
In 2013, when an eight-story commercial building in Bangladesh collapsed, Mango was one of the brands identified as using products from the factories housed in the building. The collapse led to the death of over 1000 people and leftover 2400 injured.
Mango never attended meetings to agree on compensation for the victims.
Fast Fashion Alternatives – Where to Buy
You don’t have to continue contributing to the damage that fast fashion is causing as there are a number of fast fashion alternatives and ethical clothing brands you can consider. Here are a few good and affordable options:
1. Buy less
The best way to reduce textile pollution is to buy less. The less demand there is, the less clothing will be produced. Practice buying only what you need and are sure you will continue to wear it for a long time.
2. Buy clothes from sustainable brands
More and more fashion brands are now taking into account the environmental and social impact of their production. There are quite a good number of sustainable fashion brands that follow ethical processes when producing their products.
Related article: Best Sustainable Clothing Brands
3. Buy good quality
Consumers are continuously giving up quality for cost. We don’t give much thought to quality as long as it doesn’t cost us much. Cheap, however, lasts just but a few months before you have to replace it.
Start buying clothing for its quality and not its price. The better the quality the longer it will last and therefore, you won’t have to give in to fast fashion.
4. Buy second hand, swap, & rent clothing
Instead of buying new clothing, buy from second-hand shops. There are lots of second-hand shops everywhere in the world. Swap clothes with your friends and relatives. This is an economic and eco-friendly way to refill your wardrobe. If you are looking for something to wear to a party, something that you’ll probably not wear again, then consider renting it instead of buying it.
When Did Fast Fashion Start?
Fast fashion is believed to have started when Zara landed in New York in the early 1990s. The term “fast fashion” was coined by the New York Times to describe Zara’s mission to only take 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores.
What Brands Are Fast Fashion?
There are very many fast fashion brands around the world. Some of the big names include UNIQLO, GAP, Primark, TopShop, Missguided, Forever 21, Zaful, Boohoo, Adidas, Zara, New Look, Fashion Nova, Mango, H&M, and more.
What Are the Advantages of Fast Fashion?
The biggest advantage of fast fashion is that garments are cheap and most fast fashion brands feature on-trend clothing.
Now that you know what is fast fashion and the damage that it’s causing to the planet, it’s about time you took responsibility to fight fast fashion for good. Are you up to the challenge?